“Free” trials leave consumers out of pocket

[box border=”full”]Be wary of signing up for ‘free trials’ – especially when it comes to gym memberships and beauty products or services – because they can be more of a trial than you bargain for.[/box]

Consumer Affairs Victoria received more than 180 complaints and enquiries about ‘free trials’ between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2013.

Gyms and beauty products and services topped the list of products complained about (almost 30 per cent). Many consumers also reported problems with free trials offered through television home shopping.

Consumers contacted Consumer Affairs Victoria about a range of ‘free trial’ issues, including cancelling contracts, returning products and disputing charges.

Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of any advertised ‘free trial’ offer before signing up, including:

  • when the introductory period or offer will end
  • what fees or charges will apply, and when
  • what services or products you can use during the trial
  • whether you will automatically switch to paying for the service or product at the end of the trial period
  • what you need to do to end the trial – for example, you may have to return the products at your expense or choose to opt out of the ongoing contract
  • whether you have to give notice to end the trial; and if so, how much notice and how it must be given – for example, some contracts require 30 days notice in writing.

Under the Australian Consumer Law, businesses must make sure any promotions are not misleading or deceptive. They cannot rely on small print and disclaimers as an excuse for:

  • not delivering products and services as promised
  • billing consumers without obtaining their authorisation.